By Matt Sheley, Town of Middletown
Schools rely on volunteers and the kindness of the community itself more than ever before.
Every day, countless people give time and resources to help with the education of Middletown students. Whether it’s the efforts of parent teacher groups or a bunch of pies from the local pizzeria, the Middletown schools appreciate everyone’s generosity.
However, one contribution of about 150 of children’s books from Island Books in honor of the late Gaudet Middle School Reading Specialist Diane Larkin really struck home across the district – and Aquidneck Island. A beloved Middletown teacher from 1971 to 2001, friends and educators said Larkin is still remembered and missed.
“Diane had the patience of a saint and could read a child so well and just know what every student needed,” said Missy Koppelman, a retired Gaudet math teacher who lives in Portsmouth and helped spearhead the book drive. “Every student who came into her room got help and many of them blossomed there. She truly made such a huge difference in so many students’ lives.”
Koppelman said the idea for the book drive arose out of a celebration of life held in September for Larkin at The Aquidneck Club in Portsmouth. Everyone who attended that event received a bookmark in Larkin’s honor, but Koppelman said family and friends came away with the feeling they should do more to remember such an outstanding teacher.
Speaking with Gaudet Principal Donna Chelf, Koppelman said a recommended reading list emerged as donations came in to fund the purchase of the books through Island Books, the popular independent bookstore owned by Judy and Gary Crosby.
All told, about $1,500 was raised for the campaign. Donations in Larkin’s honor are still being accepted at Island Books as well as Gaudet and the Aquidneck and Forest Avenue elementary schools, where books were donated as part of the effort. Each donated book has a plate inside the front cover with Larkin’s picture and name.
“I would do anything for that woman. She was such a dear friend,” Koppelman said. “Being such an advocate of reading, she would be thrilled to know how many students are reading these important books because of her. It just goes to show how important the right teacher is. She just had a magical way with so many students.”
“The books are so appreciated to add to our library,” Aquidneck Elementary School Principal Erica Bulk said. “All these books are award winners and were just released. Also, we love the fact this collaboration involves schools, students, former teachers and an important small business in Middletown – Island Books. This donation allows student to enjoy the love of reading and Diane would love that.”
Forest Avenue Elementary School Principal Beth Hayes said her school received 19 books from Island Books through their donation. She said every title is on the Rhode Island Children’s Book Award Nomination list, meaning each has something important and necessary to say to the children of Forest Avenue.
“Reading and discussing these books is a large part of our library curriculum each year, so of course, (Librarian) Mrs. (Mary) Beauchemin was thrilled to receive these copies,” Hayes said. “She highlights these books with children, discusses them and reads passages from some. She encourages children to read as many as they can and then they vote on their favorites.”
At a time when more businesses are chains, Island Books stands out as a proud independent. Located in Wyatt Square retail and office complex at the intersection of East Main and Wyatt roads, Island Books stocks reading material and more for all ages from toddler to grandparents – and everyone in between.
The store is opened Tuesdays through Fridays from noon to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Online and phone orders are accepted and encouraged. Currently, the store is urging holiday shoppers to get their orders in early because of the anticipated rush this season.
“Anytime there’s a community effort like this, it just feels wonderful to be part of it,” Judy Crosby said. “The students get to read these books and I always love to see groups put together drives like this and make a difference. It’s part of what makes this place great.”